This is the second in a two-part series exploring the Jobs to Move America plan and its impact on Chicago’s unemployed.
An agreement made by the Chicago Transit Authority is giving hope to the city’s poorest communities, providing a pipeline to manufacturing jobs that have long been absent in the city.
This month, the CTA opened the bidding process for the city’s $2 billion transportation plan — but with a catch. Companies submitting bids were also asked to provide a detailed proposal outlining their plan to keep all manufacturing jobs related to the project in the U.S.
That provision wasn’t the CTA’s idea. Community activists, paired with the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, lobbied the CTA to take part in a bidding process that would put American jobs at the forefront.
Among the community organizations is Blacks in Green, which is dedicated to the creation of quality employment opportunities in the Chicago’s black communities.
Naomi Davis is the founder of BIG and a fellow at Green for All, another organization behind the CTA’s recent decision. For her and the communities she represents, the new project isn’t a cure-all for Chicago’s black communities, but it’s a step in the right direction.
“In principle it’s important because the spirit of a people, the vision for their thriving, or what we call their survival, here in these desperate times is important,” Davis told Mint Press News.
In 2012, unemployment among Chicago’s black community was 19 percent. It ranked third highest in the nation. Yet even that high figure doesn’t depict the reality of what’s happening in the city, Davis said.
“It’s more like 50 percent,” she said. “With the way that unemployment is calculated, it doesn’t count the people who are dropping off — those who are no longer looking [for work], as well as people who are not collecting unemployment.”
That’s the despair Davis sees day after day — and she says it’s not due to a lack of motivation, but a lack of opportunity.
This is where her involvement with the Jobs to Move America plan, run by the Los Angeles group LAANE, comes into play.
No opportunities for entire neighborhoods
The goal of Davis’s organization is to create employment opportunities and sustainable communities out of what have become places of perpetual despair.
Targeting opportunities and creating connections with the “outside world” is the way to break down the divide that has led to the disenfranchisement in a portion of the city.
According to the Chicago Reader, communities like Riverdale, which is 98 percent African American, have a 61 percent poverty rate. The trend is seen throughout the city: In Englewood, the African American population is 99 percent, its poverty rate is 42 percent.
For white communities in Chicago, it’s a completely different story. Edison Park, for example, has a 5 percent poverty rate. Its African-American population is zero, according to the Chicago Reader.
Chicago is a testament to the correlation between poverty and crime. In Riverdale, the homicide rate is 37 per 100,000 people. In Fuller Park, the murder rate is 63 per 100,000 people. It’s a different scenario altogether in communities like Edison Park, where the homicide rate is zero.
The segregation in Chicago has created communities that are closed off from opportunities, according to Davis.
“We’re not privy to the inside information that allows us advantage in competing,” Davis said, explaining that opportunities aren’t advertised or explored in Chicago’s poor communities.
“And then over the years we see erosion of the quality of public school education where basic reading and writing and graduation rates are involved,” Davis said. “Technical training as in shop and mechanics [classes] and the core building trades that were once embedded within the public schools are gone.”
The issue Chicagoans are dealing with today is not an easy one to reverse. In 1969, the issue was addressed by Federal District Judge Richard B. Austin, who issued the ruling in Dorothy Gautreaux v. the Chicago Housing Authority. In that case, Gautreaux alleged the CHA was carrying out discrimination by building affordable housing in poor, minority communities.
“Existing patterns of racial segregation must be reversed if there is to be a chance of averting the desperately intensifying division of whites and Negroes in Chicago,” Austin wrote.
The Gautreaux Program emerged from that ruling, assuring that low income households were created throughout the City of Chicago. It ended forty years later, in 1998. And while it did see some success, the issue in Chicago remains.
Bringing manufacturing home
If the CTA follows through on its committment, 20,000 manufacturing jobs could be created in the U.S., many of which could benefit Chicago’s poorer communities.
But it’s not just the numbers that are important to those advocating on behalf of Chicago’s disenfranchised — it’s also about the quality of jobs.
The Chicago Federation of Labor is working alongside BIG and LAANE to assure that the jobs created in their city pay a livable wage — one that doesn’t require those on the manufacturing line to require assistance from the government.
The tricky part about the project is that nothing is concrete. Any “agreement” between a successful bidder and the CTA is not one that carries any legal obligation. Instead, it’s an agreement based on trust, and the demand for transparency comes from those who are behind the movement.
“(Our goal) is being in right relation with that contractor so that we understand that we’re all on the same side of this issue,” Davis said, “and having a beginning, a middle, and an end — and a process for identifying exactly what those jobs are, where they’re located, what their pay scales are [and] what their tenure is.”
For Davis and those on the ground, a successful bidding process is just the start. From there, the priority will be creating an employment pipeline from disadvantaged communities directly to the employer.
“The question that we’re asking is whether the jobs or available or can be available, and ensuring that they are available,” Davis said. “Then, it’s a question of how do we fill them — and that is the important work on the ground that our allies and Blacks in Green are committed to fulfilling … how to translate the opportunity into actual jobs is our great devotion.”
Nonprofit momentum is helping
The program taking shape with the new CTA bidding system doesn’t represent the first time an employment pipeline has been created — and it’s by no means the last time, according to Davis. Instead, it represents one of the many measures she considers necessary to keep the momentum moving forward.
The Chicago Urban League partnered with the Coca-Cola Foundation to create an employment pipeline between the city’s black communities and the company. The foundation gave the Chicago Urban League a $500,000 grant to start of the program.
“We are committed to training and developing the talent that is right here in our community to meet the needs of today’s workforce,” Andrea Zopp, CEO of the Chicago Urban League said in a press release. “Our Workforce Development Department works strategically and persistently to help people navigate how to find a job and overcome obstacles that may impede on their success.”
Davis knows she’s in an uphill battle. But providing opportunities for those who have none is a small victory worth celebrating.
“We’re in it for the long game, we feel very, very heartened by this action and how it’s translated here in Chicago with the CTA bid,” she said. “It’s a great new beginning for our way back to the far shore.”